This past weekend saw two races – on Saturday, the Kasteelcross Zonnebeke in Belgium, and on Sunday, the final race of the World Cup series in Hoogerheidi, Netherlands.
In Zonnebeke, Rob Peeters credited some unusually good legs that allowed him to respond to Dieter Vanthourenhout’s early acceleration and then respond with his own, opening a gap over a field that included Zdenek Stybar and Sven Nys but few others from the sport’s highest tier. Peeters stayed away, eventually finishing 7 seconds in front of Stybar and 11 in front of Nys.
It may have been that Stybar and Nys were leaving a bit in the tank at Zonnebeke, with their eyes on Hoogerheide the following day and the World Championships the following weekend. Or, they each may have lost a step – indeed, I’d expect Stybar, after a long block of rest and training in Mallorca, to come back to competition ready to ride away from his rivals the way he did early in the season. Is his time away from racing taking a toll on his legs that hard training can’t replace? And this is not the first time I ask: Is Nys’s strongest part of the season behind him?
For, in Hoogerheide, though Stybar showed glimpses of his early season form early in the race – opening a 15+ second gap over his chasers – Niels Albert (who had some pointed words to say to other riders about their ability to help with the chase) took the reigns and handily chased down Stybar.
At that point, Albert set about doing what he does best – riding alone several seconds in front of anybody else, eventually winning in Hoogerheide – his fourth consecutive win there, his third World Cup victory of the year, and clinching the World Cup general classification. Behind, the usual suspects did their usual thing. The chase group whittled down. Kevin Pauwels, who bested Albert last week, moved away on his own and came within about ten seconds of Albert, while Nys and Stybar battled for the final podium spot.
With just one week until the World Championships, the cards are out on the table. We have all the fodder for speculation that we’ll get. Stay tuned for this week’s Power Rankings and, on Friday, Pavé’s World Championship Preview.